Luca: PlaneShift was born from the need to create a persistent world a long time ago (in 1992) and we've gone through different projects and organizations before starting the PlaneShift 3d project. I will not go into the details of the older projects, but it's important to understand that we've reached the current organization thanks to previous experiences (good and bad) that have grown a mature vision that takes its roots from the same old dream of a persistent world adding more innovative ideas and features.
Having the virtual world access free for a player is what we feel is needed to really experience the game without boundaries and constraints. This consideration is based on different human feelings like the sense of realism and again "persistence". Paying for a game with a monthly fee lets the gamer feel that when he stops paying the virtual world will stop to exist, that his character will end his life and everything he saw stops being real and persistent. The whole game is something he buys, starts playing, and ends playing: like a movie. So his mind has a clear vision of the start and the end of that experience.
Since the player paid, the game gains a defined "value", a "cost" and his subconscious starts to search for a reward for what he paid. This generates bad feeling and pressure on the gamer like the urgent need to have *fun* with the game. The created character *must* be powerful enough to reach the game goals before the subscription expires and *must* succeed in all his actions. If that doesn't happen the player can become slightly frustrated or depressed, maybe not so much to consciously being angry towards the game, but surely his gaming experience will be polluted by those constraints. The gamer's mind is not completely free to completely experience the game.
If you have free access, the experience becomes immediately more positive and immersive: you have no time limit! Your character can live forever in those lands. You can start enjoying your stay; you can rest, be lazy, and chat. All this gives the option to roleplay more and to build a better and friendlier community. This is one of the psychological aspects that I think will have a positive impact on the gamer.
Speaking about less psychological and more practical matter, a game that is free attracts more people and we know that all companies on the Internet are searching for new ways to gain visibility and to conquer market share. The way to keep PlaneShift free is to leverage these opportunities and partner with big companies that are interested in our project.
Business is not our primary goal, unlike some of our previous projects, because we really believe that this is the good start to build something that can shake the gaming community and unify more free developers into the creation of a persistent virtual world like no other.
If I have to make a comparison to some other product, I can say that PlaneShift wants to be the "Linux" of on-line games. In this paradigm I think many developers will understand our intentions and will join us to bring into this project the same passion, quality, and fun that the development of Linux has. A difference between Linux and us is our proprietary license for art that will enable us to give a better guidance to the project and to retain our uniqueness.
Luca: The response of sponsors has been quite good up too now, with many offering to host our project, for development, for web services, or for the game itself. Looking at the current offers we received from many important companies, I feel we will have no issues in maintaining our servers in good shape and with good response times. Our server currently support 200+ players at any one time with future plans increasing that number by many folds.
Surely this brings the problem of being dependent on hosts, but I think this is a "win-win" situation, with many advantages for us and many advantages for the hosting companies. PlaneShift itself doesn't require too much bandwidth while in game. The majority of the bandwidth is required to download the game itself (currently 100Mb but surely bigger in next releases) and there are already many sites that host our files.
WarCry: Apart from the free-of-charge feature, what other elements does the game have that differs it from other MMOGs?
Luca: All our team is composed of hard-core gamers and experienced role-players, we love role-playing games and we know what can be improved in current MMORPGs. What we will leverage is our ability to expand the virtual world endlessly without commercial constraints. Any developer with the proper skills can join our team and develop new interesting features without having a specific deadline to have the feature in or out of the product. This freedom of adding new things along the road is really missing in commercial products, where they have to identify the needs of the majority of players (let's say 70%) and develop those areas in the game. That's why we see most RPG games with a lot of combat and less Roleplay, and for the same reason we always see features that are very advanced technologically, but maybe missing some important details.
Speaking more of the features of the game itself, we give a broad range of playable races: twelve currently. Each one has his homeland, traditions, history, architecture, life style and special abilities in game. With this broad range we are able to cover all the "stereotypes" available, plus a lot other variations. Additionally the character creation of the game will give the player the possibility to tweak in detail his character, from physical traits to skills.
PlaneShift is a skill-based system, so there are no levels. Players will have the possibility to shape their character without constraints and without predefined paths. Having a lot of variety on skills will enhance team play, and will increase the consideration of how important the help of other players is. The concept of "my char is more powerful than yours" fades away in this skill based system and gives more space to interaction, role-playing, and friendship.
Compared to current MMORPGs our cities will be a lot more crowded and similar to real cities. It's really bad to see some games where four or five houses are considered a city, just because you can buy weapons and food from some NPCs. Our cities will have all that's needed for a real city to function, including shops that open and close on daily basis, NPCs that go to sleep, walk around in their free time, and work at shops. We plan to add a good economic and political system where NPCs and players will balance their presence in important social roles.
With talented developers we can surely push graphics as much as commercial companies do, with shaders support, realistic shadows and lighting: it's just a matter to team up together.
WarCry: Why open source?
Luca: OpenSource really fits well in our goals and our overall vision for the game engine. We want players and developers to be able to add to PlaneShift what they like, making this game better everyday, without rest. Personally, I think that the OpenSource community is quite strong and talented, but it needs a lot of organization to be effective and to show all its potential. What we will try to do is to provide our experience, time, and resources to leverage the OpenSource community and to build a product that can stand to the quality levels of commercial products.
In the meantime, thanks to the proprietary license on art, we will have provided guidance to new developers to have official releases that players can trust in terms of quality and security.
WarCry: What do you hope to accomplish with Planeshift?
Luca: On the OpenSource side, PlaneShift should be the reference virtual world architecture used by other products and games. On the game side, we hope to bring innovation and freedom of play to the largest online community ever.
While thinking to those great goals, we have a practical and step-by-step approach. Our mission right now is to have a good next release with more playable aspects. Players will have more things to do in game and their average playing time will increase from days to weeks.
WarCry: When will the game be released?
Luca: We plan to have the next release ready for the end of the year.
If you are asking me when there will be the "final" release of PlaneShift, I can tell you that the question is wrong. It's like asking when a MMORPG ends and who wins J! PlaneShift will be improved and expanded for long time.
Editor's note: WarCry would like to thank Mr. Luca Pancallo for taking his time in doing this great interview!
Related links: http://www.planeshift.it